Over the past 15 years, the Solutions Leisure Group has worked to become one of the leading entertainment and nightlife groups in the Middle East, and now hopes to build on its record with a series of franchise agreements
The Solutions Leisure group built its foundations firmly in the hospitality and leisure industry in Egypt; providing world-class venues for the rapidly expanding tourist market.
On New Year’s Eve 2005, the group opened The Beach, the first open-air concept for the Ministry of Sound brand, in the picturesque tourist destination of Hurghada. This 3,500 capacity beach-side nightclub, placed on the shores of the Red Sea, changed the face of Egypt’s clubbing scene overnight.
In March 2008, Solutions Leisure took on the task of bringing a 120,000sqmMarina development in Hurghada to life. The Solutions team was solely responsible for the development and marketing of the Hurghada Marina brand, tenant blend, site placement and contracts.
Over 7,000sqmof retail space was negotiated and signed in less than three months, with over $18 million revenue secured for a five year period, making the Hurghada Marina the city’s top tourist attraction. Again, Solutions Leisure oversaw the entire build process of over 120 bars, restaurants and shops; designing, building and opening several of their own venues in less than three months.
But in August 2011, following the revolution in Egypt the group relocated to the UAE. Solutions Leisure director, Paul Evans, says: “I had a business with 18 operating places and 650 people on 13 January and by 20 February I had six places left and 200 staff. I made the decision that I couldn’t continue.”
Four years later and the group’s unique and diverse portfolio of venues has been strategically developed to cater to the cosmopolitan demographic of the UAE, welcoming in excess of 40,000 customers every month across its current three venues.
Paul regales: “I spent six to eight months doing a recky in Dubai to see what sector we wanted to get involved in. I knew the Hed Kandi and Ministry of Sound people very well and knew they were keen on Dubai, but I felt that the nightclub industry was quite saturated.
“Then I stumbled upon what would become the Q43 bar in Media One hotel in Media City, Dubai, and knew the general manager Mark Lee very well. I walked in and was blown away by the space and view. I had no concept but knew I had to have it. We sat here for weeks strategising about how to fill such a space – it’s too big for a restaurant and the ceilings were too low for a nightclub.
“Eventually we came up with the Q43 concept, a multitude of seductive sins that offered something for everyone, built on our belief that it’s your responsibility as an operator to get guests to stay longer by creating an environment and experience, while entertaining guests for as long as possible.”
The Success Story
“Our first year sales was double the initial sales budget. In year two we are trending to be 12% up on year one, bucking the current industry trend. Paul says: “We welcome 30,000 guests every month, and 2,000 to 3,000 people on ladies night and the venue only holds 1,000, so we turn three tables every night, which is unheard off in a late night venue like this.
“We tried something new to what everyone else in the industry is offering. Q43 in the afternoon is a great place for business lunch, professional, punctual, and fresh food, then it’s a great place for a sunset beer after work at 5pm, at 8pm it is a casual restaurant lounge and then a full on nightclub at 12AM. We wanted something very unique and fluid that morphed depending on the time and day of the week you come.”
Building on the strength of Q43, the Solutions Leisure group purchased the franchise to Raymond Visan’s Karma Kafe, which is a sister to the globally recognised Buddha-Bar concept. Acquiring this pan-Asian diner gave the group the expertise to develop its second proprietary concept in the UAE, with the launch of Asia Asia in Pier 7, Dubai Marina.
Currently the group is building on its third proprietary concept, Lock Stock & Barrel, which will open mid-January 2016 in the Grand Millenium hotel in TECOM, Dubai, and it has concluded a second franchise deal to bring Melbourne’s seafood concept Atlantic to the Souk Al Bahar in Downtown Dubai, sometime in September 2016.
Paul explains: “Lock Stock & Barrel is a party bar, programmed to death with quiz nights, ladies nights, sports nights and a resident five-piece European live band. We want to be the top level venue in TECOM. We are not interested in being like the other high end high spend venues in the market. We are building something that is accessible and unpretentious.”
He adds: “Lock Stock will be ready to open in December but we won’t. Instead we will wait until January as our target demographic will leave Dubai over the festive period, and teams will be killing themselves to fill the venues on New Year’s Eve, so why make it hard for ourselves.”
Expanding the Portfolio
Meanwhile, with 14 different concepts across Melbourne, the Atlantic Group has struck a franchising agreement with Solutions Leisure, which will initially bring its seafood concept The Atlantic to the UAE. Backed by celebrity chef Donovan Cook, The Atlantic is described as rustic, urban and quirky.
The Atlantic is the brainchild of hospitality and events entrepreneur Hatem Saleh and building magnate Tony Schiavello, the duo behind Atlantic Group of Companies and its transformation of Central Pier in Melbourne’s Docklands.
Aside from the Souk Al Bahar outlet, Solutions Leisure will be the worldwide franchise partner for The Atlantic.
“Also, Hatem will assist on our developments. We will go out and business develop it and then together we will develop the concept with the franchise partner,” explains Paul.
On developments outside of the UAE, Paul adds: “Hatem will help us develop our concepts across Australia. Together we are talking to two people about putting Asia Asia into Melbourne and Hatem has introduced us to partners in Hong Kong to put Q43 on the top of one of the towers they are building there.
“Hatem has access to our brands if he comes across the right opportunity, but it is not an exclusivity agreement. We will not invest in Hong Kong or Melbourne ourselves, but we will go in set up the business, recruit the staff, design the menu, design the site, pre-open it and check it on a monthly and quarterly basis, in a similar way to the deal we have signed to take Asia Asia to Iran.”
The Franchise Model
The Iranian restaurant will open in February 2016 in Tehran, next to the embassies with a backdrop of the mountains. “Our partners are extremely ambitious and will do a good job with us holding their hand all the way.”
Solutions leisure provides a turnkey franchise solution from design, build supervision, key staff training and other vital support right through to the launch party.
Paul add: “We are a lot more involved than many franchised companies as we are extremely dedicated to ensuring our partners are able to deliver the same level of service that we provide day in and day out in Dubai.”
Paul believes that the three concepts the group has built continue to have potential throughout the region and globally, including Moscow, London, Azerbaijan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand.
“Saudi will be huge for our restaurant sector and we are currently discussing sites in Jeddah and Riyadh for Asia Asia in 2016,” he adds.
Looking to the Horizon
Having created three concepts and bought the Karma Kafé franchise, Paul is confident the group choose to franchise over creating proprietary concepts going forward. He says: “What it takes to own and operate as a standalone in one territory is quite difficult – businesses gets more interesting with scale.’
“Whether or not we develop anymore new proprietary concepts depends largely on the spaces we are offered. We would love to get involved with beach clubs if I can get the right location. Otherwise, I will try to fit one of our current concepts in as we already know their language. And, they are all award winning venues, having amassed 13 awards in two years.
“In 2016 we will solidify Lock Stock & Barrel in the marketplace, get Atlantic open, get Asia Asia open in Tehran, get two more franchises and two more locations in Dubai.”
Supported by MMI and Heineken, Solutions Leisure is backed to open five Lock Stock & Barrel outlets across Dubai in the next three years, with targets on JBR, JLT and Business Bay.